A Victorian gentleman hopes to find his long-lost son, who vanished whilst searching for a mysterious Viking community in a volcanic valley somewhere in uncharted Arctic regions. The gentleman puts together an expedition team to go on the search, but when they reach their destination they must escape from some Viking descendants who will kill to keep their existence a secret.
David Hartman ... Prof. Ivarsson
Donald Sinden ... Sir Anthony Ross
Jacques Marin ... Captain Brieux
Mako ... Oomiak
David Gwillim ... Donald Ross
Agneta Eckemyr ... Freyja
Gunnar Öhlund ... The Godi (as Gunnar Ohlund)
Lasse Kolstad ... Erik
Erik Silju ... Torvald
Rolf Søder ... The Lawspeaker
Torsten Wahlund ... Sven
Sverre Anker Ousdal ... Gunnar (as Sverre Ousdal)
Niels Hinrichsen ... Sigurd
Denny Miller ... Town Guard
Brendan Dillon ... The Factor
At the dawn of the twentieth century, a father employs a French aviator to take him deep into the Artic, where his son has disappeared in his quest for the whales' graveyard — the mythical place where whales go to die. To the native peoples, the place he seeks, shrouded in perpetual clouds, is guarded by evil spirits. But the father, accompanied by a professor of Nordic studies and a reluctant Artic guide, presses on to the island at the top of the world. There, they will discover a lost Viking colony, separated from the rest of civilization for almost a thousand years.
The premise rivals the best of Jules Verne's fantastic voyage tales. The studio touted this comparison in its trailers. It's no 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, however. The perfect blend of actors, script and special effects wonders that marks that classic production eluded Island's makers. It's a good film — don't miss it if the chance ever comes to see it on the big screen — but don't let the story get your expectations up too high.
Three weak links keep Island at the Top of the World out of film lovers' lists of all-time greats: weak acting, a sharp contrast between real settings and soundstage footage, and a script that fails to mine the story gold this adventure promises. David Hartman looks the part of the University of Minnesota Nordic studies professor — he's tall, blond and blue eyed. His pleasant, distinctive voice also recommends the character. But his acting skills are limited, a fact that his being a professor and not a more cavalier and dynamic figure does not mitigate. Compared to co-star, Donald Sinden, a Shakespearian actor, Hartman seems flat — too casual and unimpassioned to sustain this story's epic undertones.
The inconsistent cinematography likewise disappoints. Some shots are superb — the airship emerging from a rural French barn; the real animals running below the ship (POV fliers); the airship tossed in a clouded, stormy sky over the island and cast into icy cliffs; the killer whales attacking our heroes as they sail on a chunk of ice — but other scenes all but announce they're shot on a soundstage. Particularly stark are shots inside the ancient temple, whose apparent light source is several large flaming vessels on an immense stage: all of the characters are heavily lighted from overhead, creating a halo that could only come from the many lights suspended from a studio ceiling.
Yet the biggest weakness is the film script. Instead of portraying these lost Vikings as a complex people with something to teach their modern "invaders," the script casts the Vikings into two uninspiring camps: benevolent simpleton, and raging warlord. The son's girlfriend's father is particularly underdeveloped, managing smiles and a sad face as encounters require, but showing us none of the ruggedness, wisdom or resourcefulness one might expect from a man wresting a comfortable life from a volcanic, ice-capped island untouched by modern science. The island chief is the opposite extreme, a glaring-eyed tyrant bent on killing the visitors without trial, without any effort to learn anything about their purposes or potential value to his people.
Part of the problem is the language barrier. The script has sown devices to deal with this into the story: the son has been here for two years and has taught some of the people English. The professor, with his command of ancient Nordic writing, is able to speak to them in their tongue. But we are still left with verbal translations by the son or the professor throughout the story. The Norse characters must speak briefly because we also need to hear the English-speaking characters' translation. It would have been much better either to have more of the Norse characters know English, or to provide subtitles so they could develop more complex thoughts. In a story like 20,000 Leagues, Captain Nemo, the nemesis, is an intelligent, wounded soul with profound observations of the world that condemned him, through its cruelty, to his undersea isolation. No Norseman in Island has a fraction of Nemo's depth. Weak nemeses make for less-than-compelling drama.
Island at the Top of the World is not a bad film. Parts of it — including the research the studio did to confirm that a group of Erik the Red's ships could have been separated from an expedition and ended up at a volcanic island, like Iceland, at the top of the world — are impressive. Some footage is "ahh"-worthy, and on par with the best shots from the family adventure genre. The costumes, portrayals of the buildings, ships, landscape on the island, have a compelling, realistic quality. But the whole is no better than the sum of its parts. At age 9, I loved Island at the Top of the World — enough to hunt it down on NetFlix more than 30 years later. Perhaps that is its best role: a film to awe children, and which parents can watch with them knowing that but for a few scary encounters, it will leave behind nothing but a hunger for more and sometimes better adventure stories.
The Island At The Top Of The World is based on a novel by Ian Cameron entitled The Lost Ones. The novel was set in modern times, but the film is set in Edwardian times. It is one of the better live-action Disney films, with an interesting and exciting plot, solid performances and an unusual setting. Only the weak special effects give the viewer something to gripe about.
Donald Sinden is splendid as Sir Anthony Ross, an elderly London gentleman who is desperate to find out what happened to his son Donald. Apparently, young Donald went off to the Arctic several months earlier in search of a mythical place "where whales go to die", but he disappeared during the expedition. Sir Anthony refuses to believe that his son is dead, so he assembles a search party and they set off for the freezing polar ice-cap aboard a French airship. As it turns out, right up at the top of the world there exists a lost colony of Viking throwbacks, hidden from the rest of the world and able to survive because the valley in which they live is heated by volcanic materials. Young Donald has been living with these folk since his strange disappearance, but the arrival of his father's search party causes trouble and the Viking elders vote to kill the intruders.
It's every bit as unusual and fascinating as it sounds, and is a truly worthwhile film for kids and adults alike. There are a few mis-calculations (few films, after all, are perfect) but not too many. The special effects, as already suggested, are somewhat below par. Also, much of the Viking dialect is translated by David Hartman's character, and the task of listening to it in one language, then again in English, is slightly tedious. However, all things considered, this is a very enjoyable and entertaining production.
For a low budget Disney movie that's 30 years old this ripping yarn is a lot of fun. It has everything from killer whales, volcanoes, an experimental airship, a lost civilization of Vikings and even Mako in the role of an Eskimo who 'fights like a bear'!
When Sir Anthony discovers that his son has gone missing in the frozen north, this upper class Brit wastes no time in putting together a team of explorers (an American archaeologist, a French aviator and an Eskimo) to get him back. Using an experimental French airship they head past Greenland into the vast unknown of the frozen north. Using a map made of bone and ancient myths they find their way to a lost island oasis hidden deep in the ice.
I won't ruin anymore of the plot, as it gets even better from there. The set pieces and costumes are amazing for their time (and the low budget). The special effects in some parts look slightly dated but add to the charm of the film. If you don't think so then I am sure that the attack by the killer whales towards the end makes up for it! This film is a lot of fun and I recommend it to anyone who likes a good adventure story. The movie is PG enough for the kiddies, but the neat story and the clever locations will keep the adults interested.
Airships and Vikings... What more could you want? Truly superior acting by of all people David Hartman, and Donald Siden's ruthless and ruthlessly Edwardian Sir Anthony Ross is a delight... Also a film in which ethnic actors are allowed to be ethnic, but without stereotyping.
Jacques Marin's Captain Brieuax is ruthlessly Gallic and heavily accented (naturally, Marin's a native Frenchman), yet his courage and resourcefulness are at least as great as his colleagues, and the exact same can be said for Mako's Oomiak, who, while reconizably an Eskimo and inarticulate, is portrayed just as heroically as the rest, and with great sympathy on all fronts.
What a refreshing look back this movie is, with its superb special effects and interesting plot twists. I wish they DID still make them like this anymore.
Of interest: The great airship _Hyperion_ was actually built for the filming, and I believe it is on display even now at Euro-Disney. It actually flew, and was flight-tested by two Goodyear pilots.